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Ideapaint founder cultivating stealthy lightbulb startup, Lucidity Lights

Posted by Scott Kirsner  June 11, 2012 10:42 AM

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John Goscha's first startup out of Babson College, Ideapaint, made it possible to put a whiteboard on any surface. His new venture, Lucidity Lights, wants to persuade consumers to put energy efficient, inexpensive light bulbs into any socket. The ultra-quiet company, with offices in Cambridge and a lab in Woburn, has raised more than a million dollars so far from angel investors, Goscha tells me, and has brought on board R&D veterans from General Electric and Osram Sylvania. (Lucidity doesn't have a web site yet.)

Goscha says that after leaving Ideapaint in mid-2010 — he's still the company's fourth-largest shareholder — he started thinking about the lighting market, and federal regulations that will start phasing out incandescent bulbs starting this October. (The 100-watt bulb will be the first to vanish from store shelves.) "When else in my lifetime will there be a multi-billion dollar market open up due to federal regulations?" Goscha asks. And the alternatives available to consumers aren't very appealing, he says: those spiral-shaped compact fluorescent bulbs, or more expensive LED-based bulbs.

"We talked to 20,000 consumers by standing in the lighting aisle of Home Depot, and doing phone and Internet surveys," Goscha says. "The number one thing they don't like about compact fluorescents is the color of the light — it's harsh — and the number two is the delay in start time. People are used to having a light bulb that just works. This has always been a grab-and-go product. They don't want to worry about whether it is a bulb for indoors or outdoors, or whether it gets bright right away or it doesn't."

Goscha says that Lucidity is developing a new bulb that will be shaped just like the incandescents you know and love (that shape is called A19), but will use about 80 percent less energy than an incandescent. "It gives off the light color that people like, and it's dimmable," he says. "It will be inexpensive, and have a longer life than a compact fluorescent." Goscha doesn't want to talk about the company's approach. "We're filing patents now," he says. The law firm that's representing Lucidity is Fish & Richardson, which long ago helped Thomas Edison defend his patents for the light bulb he invented.

But several sources familiar with the company tell me it is working on a kind of magnetic induction lamp, a technology that has been around for a few decades, but which hasn't yet seen commercial success. These kinds of lamps produce a magnetic field that excites mercury inside the bulb. The mercury produces ultraviolet light which is converted to visible light by a phosphor coating inside the bulb. One challenge in designing them, says Rob Day of Black Coral Capital, is getting the power electronics that supply electricity to the lamp to be small enough to fit inside a standard bulb shape. "There's just not a lot of real estate there in which to hide all of the electronics," he says.

Another challenge, Day says, is that "the consumer lighting market is so crowded, and it's really hard to break into."

Of course, you could say the same about the paint business, where Ideapaint has made a pretty significant splash. (The company recently introduced a clear version of its whiteboard paint, which can go on top of walls that have already been painted.) As with Ideapaint, Lucidity is working on a product that "will be on the shelves of the Lowe's and Home Depots of the world," Goscha says.

The company consists of Goscha and seven PhDs, he says, including Jakob Maya, a Sylvania veteran who is VP of development and manufacturing, and Victor Roberts, a former GE exec who is VP of technology. Color Kinetics co-founder Ihor Lys is on the company's board.

Goscha says the company has gotten the technology to work, and is now focused on the manufacturing process and business model issues. He hopes to raise a larger funding round for Lucidity by the end of the year.

"The holy grail of lighting right now is a real replacement for the incandescent bulb," says Goscha. That makes Lucidity a startup worth watching...

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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